Friday, May 29, 2009

Diddlers on the roof.

My storm-ravaged roof is finally being repaired as we speak, and I continue to marvel at the negligence and overall incompetence of American labor. This is a not-insignificant repair, running well into the thousands of dollars, yet the team of workers seems to have as one of its goalsalong with the repairthe wholesale destruction of my landscaping. I happened to look out earlier and I noticed old shingles helicoptering down from on high, much as they had on the day of the storm. When I went outside I discovered that two shingles had crushed a series of very pretty flowering shrubs I put in just last month. Another had sheared off the top section of a (previously) beautiful Norfolk pine that was just coming into its own (in photo, above; click to enlarge). Prior to the workers' arrival, that pine was letter-perfect in shape: a classic, stunningly proportioned Christmas tree-in-miniature; now there's an ugly notch torn out of an upper flank. I swear to God, if I hadn't already wasted far too much time doing battle with the insurance company and arranging a mutually agreeable date to have the work done, I'd be up there throwing workers off the roof with the same cavalier abandon they display in tossing shingles. (Then of course you have to wonder, or at least I do, what does this say about the quality of the roof repair itself? I can hardly wait to see what happens with the next windstorm.)

Where is the pride in workmanship? Even if there's no pride, where is the sense of personal responsibility? As I think back on various projects where I've had to engage outside help, rare was the occasion on which workers managed to complete what they were asked to do without (a) botching the job and/or (b) damaging something else in the process. From punctured walls to scratched windshields to nicked Formica to broken window screens to gouged hardwood floors to framed pictures violently dislodged from their perches, there is always some incidental havoc wreaked along the way.

There are well-known dangers in sweeping generalizations, but once again I am positive that this situation speaks to, and is a microcosm of, the latter-day American dilemma. For years
decadesAmerican car makers couldn't turn out vehicles that would outlive their warranties. Hell, even upon first delivery, many domestic cars suffered from a deplorable level of what are known in the trade as "initial-quality defects." And I don't mean to dump on The Union Man, but it strikes me that this is what happens when you have labor unions that negotiate compensation packages wherein assembly-line workers get paid $40-an-hour whether they're there or not, and can't be fired unless they purposely behead at least two of their bosses with an engine hoist. (The first time, it's just a warning and a two-day suspension.) That's big-picture stuff. On the local level, who among us hasn't learned to expect subpar service from the post office or the drycleaner or Burger King?

One day maybe we'll learn that it isn't hope or happiness that will lead us out of this mess. It's more along the lines of pride and priorities and the willingness to give a full effort.


Dimension Skipper said...

My observational experience has been that such carelessness is a usually a result of trying to get a job done fast so they can just get to the next job ASAP (or at least that's what I assume, but maybe they're just in a rush to get done and crack open a cold one). In other words quantity over quality.

I think that that's a much more prevalent trend in America than ever before, whether it's with regard to work or pleasure. More movies, more TV channels, more books, more everything. But is there much quality to be found among the quantity?

Not sure there's any good way to measure or judge such things, but it seems to me the answer to that question is "less (percentage-wise) than ever before." But perhaps I'm just more curmudgeonly than ever before.

Steve Salerno said...

I think you're right, DS. American society today is largely about get-get-get-get-get. Then get some more (or another one). You've seen this for a while now in college (an essay I'm working on at the moment), where the goal is simply to get the degree, without regard to whether anything was learned along the way. You see it in parenting, where men and women want to get the kids, often seemingly just to have them, without regard to whether they can properly parent them. You see it in our consuming tastes and habits (though the economy has tamped down on that somewhat for the time being).

I'm really eager to see where we come out of this on the far end. Will we have actually learned anything? Or will we just behave as if we're happy to get that little thing called a recession behind us?

Anonymous said...

I have learned that pretty much anybody who shows up at my house will do a crappy, substandard job unless I offer a nice bribe.

Our roof was replaced two years ago (at a cost of $38K! ouch!)and I put out a big cooler in the driveway filled with iced down Gatorade every day before lunch and a 12-pack of beer @ 3:00 in the afternoon. I did this for 10 days straight. The last day I had to double the beer and fire up the grill and make their damn lunch. But they picked up every stray nail.

The same sort of thing happens when I take my wife's car in to the dealership - I show up with two-dozen Krispy Kremes which is distributed before the service writer starts the paperwork. I show up with a fruit basket for the bitter receptionist at my doctor's office - just so she won't yank my chain about something.

I learned this lesson from Jackie Gleason - even though I never met him. He used to host a golf tournament at a place called Inverrary, and one year I was delivering flowers a local florist. Jackie received lots of flowers, and every time I went to his house, the maid who answered the door would hand me an envelope with $10 cash in it - there was a foot-long coiled spring on a table next to the front door filled with tip envelopes. Anybody who showed up at the front door got a tip; even if it was your 4th delivery of the day.

When you have any work done at your house, you have to realize that the agreed upon price is only 98% of what you will really pay if you want it done right.

Elizabeth said...

Hm. That last Anon's comment is a sad one, IMO (though presenting a practical and apparently effective approach to dealing with home-improvement crews, etc.).

Yes, Steve, I sympathize, it's so freakin' irritating (and more) to see your new landscaping decimated by workers who don't seem to care where the shingles fall. Such behavior is disrespectful, to say the least.

If that's any consolation(?), at least they are not throwing them at you or your family -- which means they are paying some minimal attention to what they are doing. Small consolation, but still something to be, er, grateful for, I 'spose.

But I too have learned that if I were to hire an American company/workers to do something, I may as well do it myself. Won't bore you with assorted horror stories (like a TV built-in cabinet that was supposed to take "a couple of days" and turned into a several months of nightmare, or a sloppy kitchen remodeling project that almost ended in court, etc.)

But there is hope (sorta). Apart from my father, who is a first-class do-it-yourself guy, I know an *excellent* Polish handyman who did a spectacular (no exaggeration) job finishing our basement. The guy is meticulous and does everything by himself, including sweeping every little speck of dust after each day of work. Has a fantastic attention to detail and knows what he is doing. No flying shingles (or anything else) from him.

Having him work on our basement years back set a standard for me/us that's impossible to meet, I think, for anyone (other than my dad). Oh, and as if that was not enough, his fees are reasonable. Imagine that.

I would wholeheartedly recommend him to you or anyone, but I don't think he travels that far (from northern IL).

Elizabeth said...

Steve, this is completely off-topic here, but it ties in with your previous posts on prominent men, especially in politics, who think with, not heads:

And we thought American politicos are scandal-prone... John Edwards' affair is baby-stuff compared with Berlusconi's lifestyle. And he is still the PM, no words anywhere on demoting him or such. Those Italians have strong hearts (and stomachs...:)

roger o'keefe said...

Steve, this post goes to my points about the bigger picture and the redistribution of wealth. You can't just hand out free money and expect any level of ambition, pride, or commitment. The old Soviet Union proved this. This is why though a Darwinistic society might seem harsh it is also the only way you can design an economic system compatible with human nature. Many people are basically lazy and/or don't give a damn. Unless you attach the rewards to the level of effort, you end up where we are now, with second-rate cars and shingles falling off the roof and killing all your shrubs.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant science, Mr O'Keefe.
If Darwinism is a universal pricipal, which society is not Darwinistic? The ones composed of people who have no DNA?